Updated: Nov 5, 2020
I know I shouldn't have to write this. I know that people just should know how to be a good audience. But - maybe because of how much more popular television is than theatre - people are losing their knowledge
of the few rules about being a theatre audience member. So here's a quick guide if you want a reminder, or just something to show your family members if they're coming to watch you and don't know what to expect.
It’s just like customer service really, it would be a lot easier if customers weren’t involved. Every stage actor has had that moment when they’ve walked on stage and known that this was a terrible audience.
Well, I’m here to help!
1. Turn off your phone
This is my biggest peeve with audience members. Most productions even have announcements at the start telling you to turn your phone off or at least onto silent. But there’s always one.
Every. Bloody. Time.
Thankfully, I’ve never witnessed someone more interested in Candy Crush than the actors on stage, but I’ve heard it from my peers before. If you aren’t paying attention to a show, how will you know if you like it?
I understand that you may be expecting an important phone call, or maybe you’re on call for work. All phones do have a vibrate function now and it’ll throw an actor less than having a tinny rendition of Beethoven’s finest play mid-monologue.
Please, put your phone of silent and if you are expecting a call sit as close to the exit as you can so you can take the call outside.
2. Be present
This has a few meanings.
Firstly, actually show up if you pay for the ticket and on time if you can. If you can’t make it, try and let the company know, that way your seat can go to someone who showed up at the door that would otherwise miss out, and you’re more likely to get a ticket refunded or moved because you took the time to be polite.
The second meaning is if you’re going to watch a play I would like to think you’re somehow invested and therefore, paying attention. Maybe you love the story or a close friend or family member is involved.
Whatever the reason, you will get the most out of the experience if you pay attention and are present in the moment. This means listening to what's being said and the emotions that are being flung around and allowing your energy to enter the space.
This leads perfectly into my next point...
3. Don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid to laugh out loud! To cry. To gasp. These are the reactions that actors live to create. We want to make you feel something and no one in the audience will be judging you if we as actors are doing our jobs right.
Also don’t be afraid to approach actors or the director after the play. Let us know how much you enjoyed the play, or ask questions and give feedback. The only way we can grow as performers is if you tell us what you think.
And it's always nice to hear face to face feedback than to read it in a newspaper a month after the season is over.
4. Don’t sit in the front row, unless...
If you’re more of a passive person and you just want to watch a play, that's fine, but don’t sit in the aisles or front row. This is the splash zone!
If anyone is going to be picked on by the actors, then these are the places we'll go. I’ve seen too many live comedy shows and performances when an audience member has been needed and they refuse, putting the actor and the rest of the audience in a really awkward position.
Let the braver people have these seats, or those who need them, like that lady in the walker, or that emergency service worker who's on call.
5. Enjoy yourself
You’d think this would be the most obvious one but I’ve seen a lot of people in my front of house time who just aren’t prepared to enjoy the show they’ve come to watch.
That probably explains why we serve so much alcohol, we need the audience to loosen up somehow. But if you’re going to a show with the expectation of hating it, then you will. Open yourself up to the idea that it will be an enjoyable experience. Maybe the story isn’t your thing, but the acting was great. Or maybe you enjoy the set and costume design. I can guarantee there will be at least one part of a show that you’ll enjoy if you let yourself.
It's very simple to be a great audience member if you are just aware of how your actions affect the performers and your fellow audience members' enjoyment of the show.
Don’t be a jerk and you’re already halfway there.